Current councillor and candidate for the September 10 Clarence Valley Council (CVC) election, Margaret McKenna, summed up what some might perceive to be a divide between upper and lower river residents, as far as being engaged with the election campaign is concerned.
“I’m living in hope that some community organisation can still organise a meet the candidates’ night for one night next week in South Grafton or Grafton!” she posted on a social media forum.
“It’s great that some travelled to Maclean tonight but very disappointing that so many aren’t getting this opportunity to hear those that will be shaping the next 4 years and longer and make a more informed decision.
“Any ideas who might do this?”
Three meet the candidate events have or are being held in the lower river: Lawrence Golf Club on August 23 (organised by the Clarence Business Enterprise Advisory Service), Maclean civic hall on August 25 and at the Yamba Bowling Club (organised by the Yamba Chamber of Commerce) on Monday September 5.
Meanwhile, Maclean woman Nicki Holmes posted elsewhere: “The Greater Maclean Community Action Group had a great Meet the Candidates meeting in Maclean last night.
“There were people from Grafton and Yamba; such was the interest.
“[Seventeen] candidates were questioned. Thank you all who attended. Even if specific issues can’t be discussed in any depth, you get a pretty good idea what the values of the candidates are.”
Current deputy mayor Craig Howe, who is not contesting the election, responded: “I must admit Nicki I was dubious about the format and thought it may be a stitch up.
“But after attending I would say it was very well run and [former CVC mayor] Dr [Ian] Tiley did an excellent job.
“I found it informative.”
Each of the candidates was put on the spot, as they entered the room one by one, when they were asked to respond to three questions within a three-minute time limit: How do you see your role as a councillor? What is your vision for the Clarence Valley? What is your plan for financial sustainability?
The action group’s president, Ian McLennan, said that Dr Tiley composed the questions.
“We’re very happy with how the meeting went,” Mr McLennan said.
“It’s what needed to be done to give people a better opportunity to hear what they had to say, and to quiz the candidates to get a better idea about their opinions and aspirations.”
Candidates took questions from the floor once they had all responded to the three questions.
The Independent won’t be outlining what individual candidates said here, however, in next week’s edition, each of the candidates has been invited to tell the community what they have in mind, in 400 words, for CVC and the future of the valley, should they be elected.
Current councillor, Karen Toms, was the only candidate who was applauded when they entered the room.
Among the candidates, improving the council’s operational engagement with the community was the most mentioned issue. Several called for greater transparency and less secrecy when it comes to having questions answered by the council’s staff.
Opposition to the proposed special rates variation (SRV) was a hot topic; however, several candidates said they would need between six months to a year before they would be prepared to make a decision one way or the other.
Exploring other means, such as selling unused properties, cutting staff numbers, improving asset management and reducing spending were floated as ways to avoid another SRV.
Several candidates said there should be a stronger focus on utilising the river more effectively and, similarly, exploiting the valley’s natural beauty – national parks, farms, Aboriginal heritage and eco tourism – to increase tourism opportunities.
One candidate wanted to improve engagement with young people and, as several others said, improve job opportunities and reduce the number of young people leaving the valley.
Several emphasised the importance of working together as a team once elected and that, sometimes, hard decisions have to be made that may not appease everyone.
Mr McLennan said non-attendance apologies were lodged by Jason Kingsley, who had a long-standing specialist appointment, Peta Rogers, who couldn’t alter her work roster; and Sue Hughes, who had a prior commitment.
Arthur Lysaught is overseas.